What attracted the developer of Spec Ops: The Line to Dead Island 2? Co-op and California.
“What we’re trying to do is make it so other players are just one of many things that are going on in the world and help give it a sense of life.”
When I first meet Isaac Ashdown, senior gameplay programmer at Yager, I ask him if he worked on Spec Ops: The Line.
It turns out everyone meeting him today has asked the same question. The PR person overseeing the interview rolls her eyes as Ashdown politely explains that he joined the company just after Spec Ops was released. But Spec Ops was one of the reasons he applied for the job at Yager.
I found the original Dead Island a fairly simple take on zombies and gore; a fun stomp around the undead where its mix of crafting, fetch quests and head shots helped pass away a few hours. I got it cheap or maybe even free with a subscription. I played it because it was there until something better came along.
I would have been more blasé about the sequel if a lesser developer was involved. But the fact it’s being worked on by Yager is the biggest point of interest for me. Clearly, that’s the reason so many other journalists wanted to meet Ashdown too.
But Dead Island 2’s zombie smash-up is quite the departure from Spec Ops’ anti-war war game. So what attracted Yager to it?
“It’s fun to mix up what you’re doing. To try a whole new genre and way of doing things,” says Ashdown.
“Spec Ops was a great game and I know that while the guys at Yager were developing it they played a lot of Dead Island in the office, to have a break. When they heard that they could pitch for the sequel they went for it.”
“Californian music is something we’re going to play with. It’s iconic.”
One of the main reasons Yager “went for it” is the co-op play, a feature that has given the game longer legs than the average zombie shooter.
“One thing we we really get from players of the original is how co-op play with friends was a big factor in why they stuck with it,” offers Ashdown. “We’re taking the co-op aspects and really running with it. We’ve got 8-player co-op in this big open world. It’s totally seamless allowing you to jump in and out.”
The idea is that players can jump in to help on a mission or a particularly tough boss fight, and the entire game can be played in co-op because there’s going to be seven other players in your world all the time.
“By default that will be how you play it,” says Ashdown. “It’s co-op in that other players are there. You don’t have to join together, there’s no explicit party system or prompt.
“You can help with a quest or take down an enemy. What we’re trying to do is make it so other players are just one of many things that are going on in the world and help give it a sense of life.”
If I’m initially attracted to Dead Island 2 because Yager’s name is on the box, then I’m going to stick around for the humour and the music. The soundtrack was handled excellently in Spec Ops, and it looks like licensed music is going to make up a big part of this sequel if the sequence where you chop up zombies at a wedding recepetion while Love Is In The Air plays is anything to go by.
“Californian music is something we’re going to play with,” says Ashdown. “It’s iconic and there’s a backlog of tracks we can play with.”
We can also expect more humour, instead of the bleak future apocalypse of something like The Last of Us. The players in Dead Island 2 aren’t trapped in zombie hell – they’re there by choice.
“It’s about how you want to play the game. People play it with a sense of humour themselves. They find what they’re doing amusing.
“We’ve brought that into the world,” details Ashdown. “The people in California decided to be there. They see it as a new opportunity to live life as they’ve always wanted to and not have any interference from the mundanity of life.
“Californians have a real sense of humour about themselves,” he adds. “Playing with that gives us an opportunity to add humour. It’s a serious situation in that you’re trying to fight for survival but that light-hearted approach is key.”
Dead Island 2 is due for release in Spring 2015 on PC, Xbox One and PS4.